The putrid stench of the bear wafted into his nostrils, but he was too afraid to gag.
Arty enjoyed walking, and the fresh air and scenery soon distracted him from his thoughts about Mac. Having been a hunter for most of his life, he was constantly on the alert when out in the bush, and walking into the wind and keeping an eye open for animal sign were second nature to him. He was about half an hour from camp when he spotted the bear prints. Bending down to check them out, he silently whistled. The owner of the prints was only minutes away as the vegetation was still straightening after being crushed by the massive bruin.
Arty scanned the landscape, half expecting to see the bear charging toward him. Apart from a stand of spruce and willows, he had a largely unobstructed view of his surrounding. He was unarmed and couldn’t see the bear, the sensible thing to do would be to hightail it back to camp. But not Arty, he wasn’t going to turn his back on a gift horse like this.
He quietly followed the tracks into the trees, relishing the fear he felt. Arty loved nothing better than a contest with fear; it made him feel alive. He could tell by the tracks that the bear was going somewhere quickly, so picked up the pace. After about 15 minutes they led him through some cottonwoods and back out into the open. The wind was in in his favour, so he paused before breaking cover.
Just to the east of him, the valley opened up into a massive basin filled with blueberries. No wonder the bear was in such a hurry. Arty knew the bear had to be close, but he couldn’t see it. A hundred yards in front of him was a small hillock; the bear had to be on its blind side. Now would be a good time to head back to camp and tell Ernie about his find, but Arty couldn’t help himself, he had to get a good look at the animal.
Checking the wind, he broke cover and stealthily approached the hillock. He knew the last thing you should ever do in the Alaskan wilds was surprise a bear; they don’t have good senses of humour, and the bear might well charge his snack from blueberries to Kiwi. Pushing logic aside, he gave into the excitement he was feeling and carefully worked his way to the top of the knoll. He was raising his head when he heard the most terrifying sound he had ever heard. The bear breathing.
Arty froze, everything puckered, he was terrified. Unarmed apart from a pocket knife, which is about as dangerous to a bear as a wet bus ticket, all he could do was keep still, hope the wind didn’t change, and that the bear was feeding away, not toward him. The putrid stench of the bear wafted into his nostrils, but he was too afraid to gag. Agonising seconds turned into minutes, and gradually the sound of the bear faded until he couldn’t hear it.
Any sane person would have carefully backtracked down the knoll, into the cottonwoods and then run like fury back to camp. But not Arty. After 10 minutes or so he had recovered enough to stop shaking. Carefully getting to his knees, he spotted the bear less than 40 feet away. It was side on, busily feasting on blueberries. Arty wasn’t quite sure how he felt, but whatever the feeling was, he loved it.
The wind starting to shift so he’d be pushing his luck if he stayed much longer. After carefully making his way to the cover of the cottonwoods he stood up and stretched. The excitement of the last half hour had put a painful kink in his back.
He floated more than walked back to camp. After the disappointment of not being able to go to India to hunt man-eating tigers and leopards, his plan b was to score a grizzly with the bow he had made after reading and rereading Saxton Popes book on archery. Here he was, barely touched down in Alaska and he had been inches away from a real live grizzly. His only regret was he hadn’t purchased a license to bag a bear; he had planned to do that after a few guiding trips with Ernie.
To say Arty was in good spirits as he prepared dinner for the three of them would be an understatement. When they got back from their afternoon hunt, he was going to tell them the good news about the Grizzly and help guide them to it in the morning. His gut instinct was that the bear would still be there.
Ernie and Mac arrived just on dark, and neither of them looked happy. Mac was psychically shattered, and Ernie had discovered that getting a grizzly in the sights of his client’s rifle was going to be a real challenge. Despite his boast of being the hunter of all hunters, Mac was hopeless in the bush. He made more noise than a 5 year old on sugar. It turned out that all his past hunting was done from hides and stands.
While they put their gear away Arty served up his Caribou casserole, it was a little on the gamey side, but Arty had been raised on wild meat and thoroughly enjoyed the taste. He’d also baked his speciality, camp oven bread, which had risen beautifully and was cooked to perfection. Arty was not a boastful man, but he did enjoy cooking good food and loved appreciative diners.
Mac avoided eye contact with Arty as he and Ernie grabbed a seat. The conversation was scarce at the table, and Arty was about to break one of the long silences with the news about the grizzly when Mac spat a mouthful of Caribou casserole back onto his plate.
“What’s this? It tastes like garbage.”
The look on Arty’s face was murderous.
Mac pushed his plate away, still not looking at Arty.
“I’m not paying good money to eat this muck, what kind of cowboy operation is this?”
Ernie was beginning to look a little rattled himself but did his best to keep the peace.
“Well, I’m enjoying it, I guess wild game is not to everyone’s taste.”
“I’ve eaten game before, and its never tasted this foul.”
Mac heard Arty get to his feet, when he saw his face he paled.
Somehow Ernie managed to get in between them before murder was done.
Mac slunk off to his tent and Arty took his anger out on the dishes.
Things were not going well, and one thing was for sure – no way was Arty going to tell them about the bear.
Perhaps if he had, Arty would still be alive today.
But more on that in the next blog.